Two games into the 2017-18 season, men’s soccer head coach Craig Jones is still looking for his starting lineup.
“We’re not the final package yet. We haven’t quite got the final pieces together,” Jones said. “It’s just finding the right relationships, if you like, the right connections, who to play with whom – that’s where we’ve struggled a little bit.”
This season the team welcomed seven freshmen and 18 returners, after graduating eight players last spring.
On the offensive side, the team lost a key goal scorer in midfielder Garrett Heine, who led the team last season with seven goals and was named Atlantic 10 Midfielder of the Year. Heine tallied 25 of the team’s 77 total shots on goal and contributed a team-high five assists in the season.
“We relied too heavily on Garrett last year,” Jones said. “Hopefully this will give other players the chance to step up and not be a one-trick pony kind of team.”
Jones said that he is looking to both veteran and freshman players to fill in the holes left by Heine’s absence. Of the seven new recruits, five are forwards or midfielders.
“This is definitely one of our better freshman classes that we’ve seen in a while,” Oliver Curry, a senior midfielder and team captain, said. “I think we are showing already that our young players are going to step up to the plate.”
In the season opener against Binghamton Friday, freshman forward Jordan Saint-Louis and freshman midfielder Brady O’Connor started for the Colonials. Saint-Louis took a team-high four shots in the game and was one of only three players to get a shot on goal. The Colonials lost the match 4–0.
On Sunday afternoon, GW picked up its first win of the year – defeating Lehigh 1–0 behind O’Connor’s first career goal and moving to 1-1 on the season.
“Our senior class stepped up a little bit in leading the group,” Jones said after the game Sunday. “We found the resolve and toughness to see the game out and get the win, so I was extremely happy.”
The Colonials tested out a slightly altered lineup against the Mountain Hawks with four different starters from Friday. After Curry sustained an injury Friday, Jones said an additional reason for the changes was to limit the team’s fatigue.
“A part of our lineup change today was in terms of playing two games so close,” Jones said.
“We were also forced into some changes.”
Curry and fellow captain senior forward Christian Lawal bring maturity and calmness to the field when they play together, Jones said. But finding a set position for Lawal has been another challenge, he added.
Lawal started 12 games last season, tallying three goals, 10 shots on goal and logging 975 minutes on the pitch.
“The only dilemma is where to play Christian,” Jones said. “We’ve played him up top in the last couple of years, but we’ve played him at the back, so I think he could play anywhere.”
On the other side of the field, the defense said goodbye to two of its starting defenders, Tobi Adewole and Sam Summerlin, who graduated last spring.
With Adewole and Summerlin on the back line and returning junior goalkeeper Thor Arne Hofs minding the net, the defense helped set a program-record nine shutouts and earned GW a league-best .67 goals against average.
For the defense, it’s not about finding the players to replace Adewole and Summerlin but rather finding the back four that work best together, Jones said.
Jones has been experimenting with the defensive lineup combination of graduate student defender Ben Ogedegbe and sophomore defender Gabriel Seemungal at the center positions.
With sophomore defender Reese Moore, who started 15 games his rookie year, and junior defender Jack Houston returning to the program, Jones said he has a number of players to choose from when crafting the team’s defense.
“It’s a headache for me, which is a good headache to have,” Jones said. “But it is a headache because we’ve got competition for these spots.”
The upside to having too many defenders to choose from, however, is the ability to adjust the lineup to best match the opponent’s offense without sacrificing quality, Jones said.
The team’s overarching goal of winning the A-10 tournament remains the same as last year, but Jones said he wants his players to play tough.
“I think we’ve got guys that are very capable of playing, but sometimes we’ve got to find a way to win games and play ugly,” Jones said. “I think we just need to be a little bit more aggressive. We can’t always play the pretty soccer.”